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Does the Bible Teach Marriage Roles?

I would prefer to avoid most - if not all -ideological batles within the church. I enjoy harmony in my relationships and, though conflict has a way of finding me, I do not go looking for it.

But we teach through books of the Bible at our church. That means when we approach a text that deals with a controversial topic, as the preacher I have to engage with it. 

That’s the humbling thing about teaching the BIble in this way – sooner or later you have to deal with the texts that your inner chicken would rather avoid.

Last Sunday, as we were teaching through Ephesians, we came to a passage that dealt with marraige. This means I had to deal with the thorny bits (the sermon should be online soon). And there are thorny bits!  There's no shortge of ink being spilt at the moment on how a Christian should understand marraige.

The Two Teams

So if you're new to this, there’s a big debate in 21st century Western Evangelical circles. Think of the Sharks and the Jets from Westside Story - just with less cool music and even less cool fighting techniques. They have the rather unsexy names of 'Complementarians' and 'Egalitarians'.

Broadly speaking, the Complementarians believe in gender roles within the home – that the wife and husband relate differently, with the husband giving a unique degree of leadership. Complementarians will say 'equal but different' and argue that masculintiy and femininity are not interchangeable.

Egalitarians argue that gender roles in the home are social constructs that Christ liberates us from. They will say 'if it's different. it's not equal'. Egalitarians argue that if husband and wife are seen as truly the same in value, then they can both equally lead or follow. Masculitniy and femininity play no defining role in how the marraige is functionally run.

There are other, more extreme views on the spectrum (radical feminist and patriarchalist, etc.) but these are the two main camps.


I admit, I have changed sides on this issue. I used to think one way, but now I embrace the other view. While in both camps, I saw people saved and lives changed for the glory of Jesus. Having seen good, spiritual fruit while in both camps, I wish the two sides would disagree more charitably than they tend to. 

Instead of just stating my position here, I'd like to do an exercise. I have copied and pasted the four main passages from the epistles that deal with marriage. There are others that deal with men and women more broadly, but here are the ones most specifically about marriage. If you think I forgot one, message me and I'll consider adding it.

Here’s what I’d like you to do: read them slowly. I know, in articles like this we skim through the Bible references quickly. But we shouldn’t. In this article, the references are the main bit. I am often surprised how many debated or supposedly unclear issues can suddenly be made clear by simply listing all the relevant passages and reading them slowly. 

As you read, ask yourself, “If I were to base my view on marraige roles simply on what these passages say, what conclusion would I come to? What is the most obvious and straightforward way of reading these New Testament texts?

Prayerfully read and come to your own conclusions before God. 

Titus 2.3-5

Likewise, older women should be reverent in behaviour, and not be false accusers, not be enslaved to much wine, but teachers of good things, that they may teach the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, and to be self-controlled, pure, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be dishonoured.

Colossians 3.18-19

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as it is fitting in the Lord.
Husbands, love your wives, and do not be bitter toward them.

1 Peter 3.1-7

Wives, be submissive to your own husbands, so that if any do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, as they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Do not let your adorning be the outward adorning of braiding the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine clothing. But let it be the hidden nature of the heart, that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. For in this manner, in the old times, the holy women, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands, even as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. You are her children as long as you do right and are not afraid with any terror.

Likewise, you husbands, live considerately with your wives, giving honour to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they too are also heirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.

Ephesians 5.22-33

Wives, be submissive to your own husbands as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, just as Christ is the head and Saviour of the church, which is His body. But as the church submits to Christ, so also let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, and that He might present to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. In this way men ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord cares for the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.”  This is a great mystery, but I am speaking about Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
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bkFor a look at how the Gospel helps build satisfying friendship across the gender divide, check out Forbidden Friendships - available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle in the USA and the UK.


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